La Crosse firefighters visit children at Gundersen hospital

Children in pediatric unit at hospital get surprise visit from firefighters

We know firefighters for their bravery, fighting fires and helping people during times of emergency, but on Wednesday some La Crosse firefighters used their skills and resources in an unusual way to make a positive impact in the community.

From the outside, it looked like La Crosse firefighters were doing some training with high-rise buildings at Gundersen Health System but from the inside, you got to see exactly what was happening through the eyes of a child battling cancer.

On the job, La Crosse firefighters hope for the best but always prepare for the worst.

“Whether it’s fighting fires, rescuing people on the bluffs, rescuing people in the water, EMS calls, those are all things that we need to do on a regular basis,” said Capt. Tony Nickelatti with the La Crosse Fire Department.

That is why every week, they train to be ready for anything.

“We go out and do a job that is expected of us, and we go out and train hard, we work hard on all days to be the best that we can,” said firefighter Andy Formanek.

But sometimes being the best doesn’t mean being the hero. Instead of using their aerial ladder to rescue people from a fire, they used it to rescue kids from a tough reality even if it is for just a short time.

“We had some opportunity to meet some of these fantastic families and kids here in the hospital, just a chance to brighten their days,” said Formanek.

Meet 4-year-old Will. He loves to draw, play with Legos, and of course “Star Wars.” But for the past couple of months, he has called a hospital room at Gundersen Health System home after being diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in July.

“Will has pretty much been here since July 14, except for six nights, so almost two straight months,” said Derek Nordeen, Will’s father.

Will is entering his third round of chemotherapy and is unable to leave the room as often as a 4-year-old would like to.

“Our life is pretty much here at the hospital and home. We are between here and there every other night, my wife and I just trade nights here at the hospital,” said Nordeen.

But on Wednesday, Will’s view of the outside world from inside his hospital room became a whole lot better.

The La Crosse Fire Department paid a special visit to Gundersen to say hi to children just like Will.

Not only did they visit Will through the window, they also brought him a present — his very own firefighter helmet because Will is the true fighter.

“Hopefully this will build his day back up to give him a little more strength to fight a little longer,” said Nickelatti.

A visit from the La Crosse Fire Department wasn’t the only good news for Will this week. Although he is entering his third round of chemotherapy, his most recent PET scan revealed that he is radiographically free of cancer.

The visit on Wednesday was made possible by the staff at Gundersen Health System and the La Crosse Fire Department.